Vote looms on contentious new Shutesbury wetlands bylaw

Shutebury’s special Town Meeting will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 16 at the elementary school.

Shutebury’s special Town Meeting will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 16 at the elementary school. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-11-2024 11:48 AM

SHUTESBURY — A new wetlands protection bylaw to replace one first adopted 37 years ago is part of a seven-article warrant for a special Town Meeting set for Jan. 16.

Before the meeting is held, though, the activist group Smart Solar Shutesbury is objecting to a section of the new bylaw that its attorney contends would give developers the right to veto conditions set by the Conservation Commission. The group is asking the Select Board for the language to be amended before or on the floor of the meeting.

The special Town Meeting, which also includes spending on town legal fees and the Locks Pond culvert project, begins at 6 p.m. at the Shutesbury Elementary School gymnasium.

The new wetlands protection bylaw comes after the Conservation Commission, at an Oct. 5 meeting, adopted new wetlands bylaw regulations that follow the outlines of the proposed bylaw. Town Meeting first adopted the current wetlands protection bylaw on May 2, 1987 and amended it on May 5, 1990.

Smart Solar Shutesbury is having a forum on Jan. 15, via Zoom, in which Donna Brewer, an attorney with Harrington Heep of Wellesley, will address concerns about the language of the bylaw. In a letter, Brewer wrote that, while the bylaw allows conditions to be imposed by the commission, including that certain land not be built upon or altered, filled or dredged, and that streams are not diverted, dammed or otherwise disturbed, it also allows a possible veto in “that such conditions may be included only with the consent of the applicant.”

A message from Smart Solar Shutesbury describes the Town Meeting as “where the rubber meets the road.” “Our water, roads, ecosystems and property values are either protected, or they will be severely damaged by ill-conceived massive forest-destroying solar projects,” the group writes.

The Conservation Commission meets virtually Thursday at 6 p.m., with the wetlands bylaw and the legal opinion from Brewer on the agenda.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the Town Meeting warrant is focused on spending and transfers.

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The largest spending is $50,000 from the free cash account to cover legal fees, with another $40,000 from the capital stabilization fund to address cost overruns related to the Locks Pond culvert project.

Free cash totaling $9,000 would go toward the monitoring of gas leaks at the fire station being done by Tighe & Bond in response to a letter from state’s Department of Environmental Protection about contamination at the Leverett Road site.

The final articles seek to adopt state law Chapter 40, Section 22F, which accepts that elected and appointed committees can charge fees; transfer $136,943 from the Municipal Light Plant retained earnings to an emergency reserve fund; and to use $2,500 in free cash to pay a previous year bill for the Mosquito Control Board.